It ought to go without saying that we should value our time, even above money. Executives should only have a few vitally important priorities. Not 12. No 15. More like 3. If we agree that everything is a priority, then nothing really is a priority. This concentrates our yeses into a vital few, and this focuses our attention.
Interestingly and ironically, the higher up we go, the more time we seem to spend in meetings, which takes away our thinking time and strategy time. One of the things Brendon coaches executives on when he asks to see their calendar is to immediately eliminate 50% of their meetings. Just don’t go any more, he says. This shocks all of them, of course. But he’s trying to free up their days for more thinking time and strategizing time. And he’s teaching them to say no to the unimportant. We wait forever for someone’s permission to say no. But unless you have a coach or a mentor or a boss who advises you on decision making matters, no one will come knock on your door, telling you it is OK to do this. You don’t need a credential. You don’t need specific training. You just need to develop a new habit of saying no more often, eventually making it the default.
From the macro perspective, if you’re an executive or in management, your priorities shouldn’t change all that much from year to year. If your priorities don’t change much, your behaviors at work shouldn’t change much, either. But we can all use more discipline in how our days are spent, even if they are currently filled in our Outlook calendars. If there is no time spent in between tasks, juggling projects, meetings, and conference calls, then there is no time for thinking about these tasks from a detached perspective. As in, Is this the best use of my time right now? And if not, then what is?
Perhaps the sad reality most executives must face as they rise is moving from creation to meeting. Moving up in any organization almost always means away from creation toward more meetings. Some poor executives turn into professional meeting attendees or leaders of meetings. There’s nothing wrong with focused, deliberate, and regular meetings. Only they can begin to consume our calendars and therefore our days if we’re not careful. Perhaps one of the reasons why executives feel unfilled is because the act of creation in their day is taken from them. Creation offers us a sense of contribution that is difficult to match. When we’re creating something that we feel matters, this connects us to our work unlike just about anything else.
Do executives have time to be creative?
Can executives still be creative despite their new responsibilities? If so, what does the creative contribution look like at this level? Some of the creative contribution at this level comes from bringing people together who otherwise would not work together. A great example of this is sales and marketing. Historically, these two divisions have been divided even though they ought to complement one another. They should be working well together, solving problems, qualifying leads, and working together to increase business revenues. However, what organizations typically run into is an us vs. them dynamic. Conversations about the other group tend to start with Those people…and we know what that means. (Nothing positive ever follows Those people…) Where there is struggle, there is also opportunity. A collaborative leader can come in, see what is necessary to be of service, seek out the gaps, and act as the bridge between disparate groups of people that aren’t getting along well. If he is successful in bringing these two silos together that historically do not work well with one another, that is great work. That is creative work at a high organizational level.
What are we missing here?
Where else do you find creative work at a high organizational level? What is something that has not been done before here? What’s missing? What have you read about happening at other places, other businesses, that simply is nonexistent here? Bringing something brand new to a company that has never had it before is wonderful creative work. This could be software. This could be new sales strategies. This could be certain marketing campaigns. This could be a new go-to-market strategy. This could even be video. What is missing that you feel is necessary to boost success here?
What exists outside your industry?
Another great way to bring creativity into your teams is to look outside your industry entirely. Try new ones. Go to their trade shows. Become a customer of theirs. See how they treat people. See what their go-to-market strategy is and then see how you can apply it to your business. While each of our industries is vast and complex, it is but one industry. Imagine what else you can potentially learn by looking outside of your vertical and into another. There is so much going on within other spaces that you’re bound to learn and be able to apply your learning to your company.
You can never get too close to your customer.
While some might think it should go without saying, customers offer excellent creative ideas. Who, aside from your product manager, is closer to your product? It is hard to beat the perspective of the end user. They have insights into our products that those closest to them simply cannot see, even the ones who created it. This is especially the case with software. In fact, it can be a problem being too close to the product. Being too close to the product skews perspective, and suddenly each problem encountered resembles the same challenge. Looking at the product (or problem) from the customer’s perspective offers a new view. A great, creative idea for executives is to leave the building and go meet with customers. This is a great idea even if you’re not an executive or an aspiring one. You can never get too close to your customer. Their perspective is at least as important as yours for if we’re building a product no one wants, it is all for naught.